Friday, November 30, 2012

Alone in the Darkness?

“If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness,’” were the words of Mother Teresa in September of 1959. “I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”

Two years earlier she wrote this to Archbishop Perier of Calcutta:

"There is so much contradiction in my soul.—Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal. Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has every right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God..."

Sometimes it is good to know that you are not alone in your struggles. In our darkness we tend to forget that many saints who have gone before us shared similar experiences.  Can you imagine the feelings of failure Peter must have had after his denial of Jesus? How about when you read Paul's heartfelt struggles in Romans 7, as he seems almost tormented by his battle with the flesh?  And to hear the despair in the heart of a modern day saint like mother Teresa.  

This should remind us that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone.  There are many great men and women of faith who have shared similar struggles.  In fact, there are probably people around us right now who have been there and can relate to our pain.  You will never know unless you are willing to be vulnerable with those God has put in your life.

And we should never forget that He knows and loves us in spite of our failures, struggles and unbelief.  

He is always there.

"But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.  
Psalm 3:3-4

We must take off our masks and let others in.  That is when the healing begins.



Monday, July 23, 2012

The other 90%

One of the biggest complaints that I hear from people who leave churches or refuse to attend a local church is they feel like pastor's talk too much about money.  I recently had a wealthy businessman tell me that he was tired of being treated like an ATM, called on to build another man's kingdom.  As a result, he and his wife spent the better part of the last two years worshiping in their home with a handful of other believers. Please understand that this man is someone who has given generously and is someone that I respect as a mature follower of Jesus.

I think it is sad to see how many pastors focus on trying to get people to "tithe" to their church.  In my humble opinion, ministers spend way too much time talking about something that Jesus basically never talked about.  Jesus only mentions the tithe one time and that is when He is rebuking some religious leaders for "tithing."  That's right, Jesus wasn't impressed with their tithe.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." Matthew 23:23

Apparently these individuals were giving as a religious act or duty, but their hearts were not engaged.  Giving should be something that is an act of worship.  It is the response of someone who understands that all he or she has is a gift given to them by God.

"You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."  - Deuteronomy 8:17-18

"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand."  - 1 Chronicles 29:13-14

The truth is that we only have what has been given to us from God.  All that we have is a gift.

The question that should be asked of all of us is "What are we doing with what has been given to us?"

People often ask questions like "how could God allow so much suffering in the world?"  "How could God allow children to starve to death?"  "Why doesn't God do something about the fact that almost a billion people live without access to clean drinking water?"  "Where is God?"

Sometimes I am tempted to ask those same questions as well.  The problem is that I am pretty sure that God is looking at us with those same questions in mind.  "Vic, how could you allow so many children to starve?" "Where are you and what are you doing with what I have entrusted to your hands?"

You see, God has the resources to take care of all of the needs that we see around us.  The only problem is that in His infinite wisdom, He has decided to give those resource to each of us and He has left it up to us to be stewards of His resources.

So to me the question is not whether or not you are "tithing" to a local church.  The question is whether or not you understand that all you have has been given to you by God and that you are responsible as a steward of those resources?

Don't get me wrong, I think it is a good thing for people to tithe to a local church.  But don't be like the religious leaders who thought that was the extent of their religious duty.  God cares about the other 90%.  God cares about the people that are in need all around us.  God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing.

I am reminded of the words of Paul:

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, 
so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to 
God.  - 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

If you live in America, you are rich.  You have been made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.  We are blessed so that we can be a blessing.

This morning I received a phone call that left me sitting in my chair in Panera, weeping. I don't know what it is about Panera but God often meets me here  :)

I have a friend in Guatemala named Cesar.  Some of you know him or may have read some of his story in my book. Cesar is suffering from degenerative disease and is in the last days of his life.  Well, the doctors have been saying that for more than 5 years, but now it does seem like he is getting close to going home.  Though Cesar is suffering greatly, the love of God radiates from him. Every time I see him, he is encouraging me in some way.  He quotes Scripture and always reminds me that one day we will be together and he will no longer be confined to his bed.  "We will be with Jesus running on streets of gold, playing soccer and enjoying His presence, " he says.  Whenever we have taken a team to Guatemala, we always take time to visit Cesar and his family.

This morning I received a phone call from a friend who met Cesar on one of those trips. He was calling to let me know that he and his wife have been thinking about Cesar.  He went on to say that in response to how much Cesar had blessed their lives, they wanted to be a blessing to him and his family. Knowing that I will be in Guatemala later this week, my friend asked me to communicate to Cesar that he need not worry about his family.  He said that he wanted him to know that they have decided to start a fund that would be established to be sure that his children are well fed and that all their medical needs would be taken care of. He said that he didn't want his brother to carry the burden of worrying about his children as he prepared to leave this world and be with Jesus.

Wow, what a blessing!  

What you need to know is that my friend is not a millionaire.  He is middle class American who has come to the understanding that all he has is a gift given to him by the Father.  He realizes that he has the responsibility of stewarding those resources and I would say that today His Father is well pleased.

May we all be challenged to rethink what we do with the resources entrusted to us. There is a lot that God wants to do in the world and we are His chosen vessels to accomplish this.

"The earth is His and everything in it." 

What we do with His resources matters.

We matter.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

The world waits.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just Read Your Stinkin' Bible

We recently finished a 14 week study through the book of Ephesians. Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus is encouraging and very challenging. He spends the first part of the letter reminding those who follow Christ of all the blessings that they have received in Him. He talks about being called by God and the inheritance that is ours as saints. He then goes on to challenge believers to live differently in light of the blessing and calling that they have received. As the letter comes to a close, Paul talks about relationships. He begins with husbands and wives and then goes on to address parents and children and slaves and masters. Right after this discussion on relationships, Paul reminds his readers that they are in a battle. I find the placement and timing of this very interesting. It's like he is saying "You are children of God, abundantly blessed by the Father. Be sure to live as His children, loving and serving one another. And by all means don't forget that you are in a battle."

You are in a battle. Did you realize that?

It's easy to forget that as we go through our daily lives, there is a spiritual battle raging all around us.  

When was the last time you heard someone say "God has a wonderful plan for your life?" Now let me ask, when was the last time you heard someone say "the devil has a plan for your life?" Whether we realize it or not, he does.

Paul implores his readers to put on the full armor of God so that they can take their stand against the devil's schemes. He has a scheme. He has a plan. We must be ready. Paul begins his discussion regarding the armor of God by saying that we must "stand with truth like a belt around your waist."

We are bombarded day in and day out by lies. They come at us from all sides and from various sources. Commercials tell us what we need in order to be happy. Some parents tell us we are not good enough. Friends tell us what we need to do in order to be accepted. We are either too fat or too skinny, too tall or too short. Lies, lies lies.

There is only one way to combat the lies that we are inundated by, and that is with truth. We must stand with truth like a belt around our waist. The belt was the thing that held the armor of a Roman soldier together, it was essential. Our belt is truth and truth is found in the Word of God. We must know God's truth in order to take a stand against the lies of the enemy.

 Here is just some of what God says about the importance of His Word:

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105 

“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20:32 

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17) 

God has given us His Truth so that we can combat the lies that come against us in our daily lives. Do you have the truth inside you so that you can take a stand against the devil's schemes?  The devil has a plan and he would like nothing more than to destroy you, your marriage and your family.  God has a plan and he has given us everything we need for life and godliness. However it is up to us to take full advantage of all that is available to us.

Read God's Word daily. Let it be your food and the Truth that helps you to stand!

As one guy put it, "Please, just read your stinkin' Bible!"  I think that says it all.  :)

For His Kingdom


p.s.  Just read this by A.W. Tozer and thought I would add it to this post:

"Any wrong idea of God is bound to give us a wrong idea of ourselves.  We can know ourselves only as we know God. If our theology is false, our anthropology must be false.  If we are wrong about God, we will never know who, what or why we are where we are."  

Another reason why we must read our stinkin' Bibles  ;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Our Faithless Lives

If you ask the average person whether or not they have faith, many would say they do. This leads to the obvious question, "In whom or in what have you put your faith?" People have faith in a lot of things. Some have faith in a "higher power", others have faith in Jesus, while some have faith in other gods or even themselves. But what does it really mean to be a man or woman of faith?

While many of us would claim to be people of faith, the reality is that it takes very little faith for us to live in America. In fact, there was a point in my life when I realized that the way I was living and the things I was doing, didn't require much faith at all. And at that time, I was a staff pastor at a large church!

What does it really mean for a person to have faith in Jesus? We have faith in Christ for our salvation, which is important, but does our faith go beyond that? Paul said in Galatians 3:11 "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”" It is clear that we are justified by our faith, but that verse says "The righteous will live by faith."

Here is a good question to ask yourself, "Am I currently living by faith? This is a question that I try to ask myself on a regular basis. Does the way that I live my life require any faith on my part? Or is my life structured in such a way that I can pretty much do it on my own?

Think about your life. In what or in whom have you placed your faith? Are you currently living by faith or does your faith have to do with a decision that you made, possibly many years ago?

I recently went to Guatemala with a group of guys. While there, we met a woman named Maria who was suffering from a debilitating disease that had left her with stroke like symptoms. As we talked to her, we realized that she could not afford proper medical treatment. In fact, she couldn't even afford to pay for the bus ride to get to the clinic. All she could do was pray. After hearing her story, we joined our faith with hers and asked God to heal her and bring her a miracle.

The situation weighed heavy on our hearts and we started trying to figure out how we could help her get the treatment that she needed. You might think that it would be easy for everyone to just pitch in money and make it happen. The only problem is that this is just one of many situations that you encounter while on a trip like this. However, we all felt we should help in some way and we all continued to pray.

The next day we woke up to some incredible news. Chris, our missionary friend and host, had received an email in the middle of the night. The person indicated that they felt like God was leading them to give a financial gift, specifically for someone with a medical need. Of course, the first person we all thought of was Maria.

God had heard the cry of Maria's heart and in His infinite wisdom, He brought a group of guys to her house that day. As we heard her story and prayed for her, God kept her at the forefront of our minds. God then prompted someone thousands of miles away to give a gift to "someone with a medical need." There was no question that in that moment God had heard our prayers and answered in a way that only He could.

Sometimes God will work a miracle that defies the laws of nature, other times He uses people like us to provide that miracle for someone in need. However, we need to be people who believe. Not just people who believe that one day we will spend eternity with God because we have faith in Jesus. We need to be people who believe God in the here and now.

Paul said "the righteous will live by faith." This leads me to believe that these should not be isolated incidents that we only experience while on mission trips. I think God wants us to be people who live by faith in our everyday lives, believing Him to do the unexpected and even the impossible.

So what exactly is faith? The writer of Hebrews put it this way, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Are you sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see? Do you believe that Jesus not only died for your sin, but that He rose and lives today, sitting at the right hand of the Father, continually making intercession for those who follow Him? If your answer is "yes", then will you begin to believe for more than a future life with Him, in a future place beyond this world?

Living by faith has to do with the here and now. We should be people who believe that God is in our midst, just waiting for us to call on Him and exercise our faith in Him. We are the ones who believe in The One who can do the impossible and change any circumstance, no matter how dark or bleak it may seem.

I know that for most of us, we can make it for a long time without exercising much faith at all. However there is a world out there that is in desperate need. There are people who cannot put food on the table and others who have no way of getting even basic medical treatment. And we all know people, some even in our own families, who are struggling and find themselves in situations that seem hopeless.

I believe that God desires to bring hope and healing to this broken world that we live in. I also believe that He has chosen people like me and you to accomplish these purposes. Those of us who have faith in Christ, believe in the God of all hope. Our faith must go beyond the salvation of our souls. We are to be those who live by faith in this world. This means that we should interact with God on a daily basis, believing for the impossible.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

What do you hope for? What are you certain of?

One thing that I am certain of, is that God is love and that He desires that all men and women come to faith in Christ. Therefore it's my hope that we join God in what He is doing to show this love to those who are in such desperate need.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, January 2, 2012

God, David Copperifield, Corvettes and Orphans

Does anyone remember David Copperfield? He was an illusionist who used to do some crazy stuff, like make airplanes and the Statue of Liberty disappear. I remember watching him on TV as a kid and being mesmerized by his stunts. Of course, it's TV so you figured it was all done with mirrors and camera tricks, but it still sucked you in. He had these crazy eyes that made you wonder if maybe he had some kind of supernatural powers. Of course, he didn't. He was just a dude wearing funny clothes, hamming it up for the cameras. Impressive nonetheless.

Copperfield did some amazing things. However, not even his greatest stunts matched something I saw God do recently. Who else but God could take a beautiful, fire engine red, 1975 Corvette and turn it into an acre of land in Africa? Now that is amazing!

Not long ago a gentleman approached me to tell me that he wanted to donate his beautiful red corvette to the church to be used for one of our "crazy love projects". A crazy love project is something that we do to be a blessing to someone in need. Whether it is repairing someone's home here in the U.S. or building a home for someone in Guatemala, this is our way of letting people know that Jesus loves them, with no strings attached.

So we all prayed that God would use the finances from the sale of the car to do something crazy to show His love to someone in need.

It wasn't long after that when we connected with Jeff and Lucy Osborne, missionaries to Kenya. They shared with us about a young pastor (Samson Kiriinya) who was feeding some needy children in an impoverished area called Taveta. Some of the children are orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS, while others are just victims of poverty. Samson and his small congregation took it upon themselves to try to help these children.

A few months ago I had the privilege of going to Africa with some other men to visit Jeff, Lucy and pastor Samson, and to see the work first hand. It's hard to explain abject poverty. It is one thing to hear about poverty and see pictures, but when you actually meet the people who are living like this, it changes everything. It is then that you realize that poverty has a name, a face and a smile. It is then that your heart breaks and you realize that God's heart breaks as well.

After some inquiry we found out that we could buy a piece of property to build a feeding/educational/activity center for these children for about the same amount of money that we could get from selling the Corvette that was donated. So that's what we decided to do.

When we returned to the States, we shared this story with the people at Journey. At the end of the service a gentlemen approached me to let me know that God had put it on his heart to donate the finances to help build the facility for these children. I was almost speechless.

Only God can turn a shiny red Corvette into a piece of property that will one day house a facility that will change the lives of countless children for generations to come.

This is one amazing journey!